Di s pl a c e d artists retaking their place
Elizabeth Cook-Romero I The Santa Fe New Mexican - May 19 - 25, 2996
“People who have lived through this storm have no concept of time,” said Frahn Koerner, who evacuated her home in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit. “But we all have lots of stories.” Koerner is lucky; her house was not flooded, and she didn’t lose years of work stored in her studio. Before the storm she supported her art through teaching and buying and selling houses, but now in New Orleans those sources of income no longer exist.
Koerner is among eight artists in residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute who open their studios to the public on Thursday, May 25. In the early evening, writers in residence give a reading in the lounge.
Three of the eight artists are part of an emergency relief program started after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The institute gives temporary residences to artists whose lives have been disrupted by domestic strife, political upheaval, or natural disasters. The three artists are from the New Orleans area.
“The hurricane made me ask what is important,” Koerner said. And, she continued, she doesn’t regret the loss of her jobs, because the storm made her realize that she wants to spend her life making art. She has been in Santa Fe for more than a month, and her studio is slowly filling with work.
Koerner’s themes and images are the same as before the storm, but her materials have changed dramatically. She used to make paintings of boats — Chinese junks that Koerner said symbolized becalmed seas and a lack of movement, and tiny open crafts symbolizing change. She also painted recurring images of a woman on horseback who, she said, represented movement through time and transformation. Now she constructs similar images out of sequins, beads, and extravagant and gaudy fabrics used in Mardi Gras costumes.
Koerner’s new technique is labor-intensive — she cut round sequins into tiny rectangles and nailed them into iridescent, silver outlines of rowboats. She used tiny white beads, each decorated with one black letter, to spell words that twist around a tiny black-fur boat. Viewers have to crane their necks, pressing their shoulders into the walls, to read messages like, “We are lost now.”
Big storms have always been a part of Koerner’s life; her grandparents drowned in Bay St. Louis, Miss., in 1969 during Hurricane Camille. “I had a false sense of security in New Orleans,” she said. “But we’re all terrified now. We live with packed bags, but where do we go?”
Chris Jahncke, who lives in Covington, La., was an artist in residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in New York City when the storm hit. His father rode out the hurricane. Jahncke followed news reports from Louisiana television stations on the Internet while waiting weeks to hear from his family trapped in Louisiana.
“It didn’t seem like a time for intense art-making,” Jahncke said. “I wanted to help, and there was no place for me to stay. When I reached my family, they said, ‘Don’t come back.’” The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council extended Jahncke’s stay, and he worked in his studio while wanting to be on the Gulf Coast. With time, he said, making art became important again.
The house Jahncke shared with his sister was damaged when a large tree crashed through the roof, and he doesn’t know yet if the structure can be saved. It was the third time water ruined all the work stored in his studio. This time, though, at least some of his pieces were safe because he had sent them to galleries in other parts of the country.
Jahncke, who usually works on paper, said he had wanted to continue combining collage with drawing and painting at SFAI; then he bought some meteorites at a downtown store. At first, he said, he planned to print textures from the meteorites on paper that he would collage into his paintings, but that didn’t work.
During a recent studio visit, small wooden panels lay on Jahncke’s studio floor; he had glued a slice of meteorite to the center of each. “Meteorites are millions of years older than the Earth,” he noted. “Most come from the other side of Jupiter, and for me they are a meditation on time and distance.” Jahncke will spend his time in Santa Fe focusing on these dark-gray bits of rock and minerals.
After spending a month at SFAI, Jahncke will return to New York for three months. Perhaps by then he will know if his home can be saved. “I returned to see the damage in December,” he said. “It was unbelievable. On my father’s property, I saw the sunset for the first time. Before, there were too many trees. I have less to lose now, less trees to fall.”
Daphne Loney was born in Biloxi, Miss., during Hurricane Camille. Although her apartment in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward survived the storm, she was unable to move back and couldn’t afford to pay rent on an unused apartment. She now shares a space with other artists displaced by Katrina in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. Loney said she hopes to be living in New Orleans again by November; she wants to take part in the rebuilding of a city.
At SFAI, Loney is making a wedding dress from the pages of a Bible — a project inspired by a dilemma haunting her mother, a devout Catholic and a widow. Loney’s mother fell in love with her high-school sweetheart for the second time, but he was divorced and they will not marry until his first marriage is annulled. Before Katrina, they lived next door to each other while they waited for the annulment. Now, they live together without the church’s blessing.
Most of Loney’s family members lost their homes, which were clustered together in Gulfport, Miss. At Christmas, she said, her family didn’t have a place to gather. “Everyone in my family lived close together, and now everything is gone,” she added. “I’ve never been as homesick as I am now.”
• Open studios, Santa Fe Art Institute artists in residence
• 5-7 p.m. Thursday, May 25
• 6 p.m. reading by writers in residence
• Santa Fe Art Institute, College of Santa Fe,
1600 St. Michael’s Drive, 424-5050
Photos Jane Phillips/The New Mexican Balm after the storm: in the wake of Katrina, New Orleans artists Frahn Koerner, above, and Daphne Loney, right, have temporary residences and studios at Santa Fe Art Institute.